After a winter of spending time backcountry snowboarding and climbing Mt. Hood, being in the mountains for the weekend became a regular thing for Ted and me, although I was still fairly new to the mountaineering game. Because of this, I was still learning all the jargon when we decided to climb Mt. Adams in Washington. What I did know was that Adams is about 12,000 feet tall, and at that point I had only climbed Mt. Hood, which is around 11,000 feet tall. What I did not know is what “Let’s climb 6,000 feet in one day!” actually meant.
We left one morning from Forest Grove to the base of Mt. Adams. After parking, it took quite some time to get our packs loaded. We had enough gear to stay overnight at about 6,000 feet, as well as extra clothes, food, and mountaineering gear. Our packs were stuffed to the brim, and to top it all off I strapped my split board to the outside of my pack, and Ted did the same with his skis. Although we were hoping to be able to skin (hike up snow with skis/split board) up to our campsite, we had no choice but to hike in trail runners because there was no snow at the start of the trail. We walked for a mile or so, gaining a decent amount of elevation before reaching snow that was plentiful enough to skin. I put on my snowboard boots, split my snowboard, attached my skins, and continued up the mountain (as Ted did with his skis). We lost the trail and used GPS to guide us to the ideal campsite.
Our goal for this trip was to ski the infamous Southwest Chute of Adams, which is said to be one of the best runs in the Pacific Northwest. We chose our campsite accordingly—it was far enough down the mountain that after ascending the south side of the mountain, we could ski the Chute and return to our campsite without having to hike back up to our campsite. Mountaineers that climb Adams normally camp at Lunch Counter, which is a big, flat area just before the false summit of Adams. Because mountaineers camp there, they have less elevation to gain on the day of their climb. We had planned to camp about 2,000 feet below Lunch Counter, which meant that if we were to do a summit attempt, we would have to gain 2,000 more feet than the average mountaineer on Mt. Adams.
We skinned up for a while and then finally found a good place to stop. It was flat, and had a great view. We set up camp, which included building a kitchen in the snow, setting up a tent, and heating up water for dinner. We started off with making some hot cocoa, and I got so excited about melting snow for water (it was my first time) that we made a few batches. When we moved onto dinner, we started with mac n cheese. It was a freeze-dried meal, and wasn’t bad. It also wasn’t enough, so Ted and I decided to rehydrate another freeze-dried meal: beef stroganoff.
As the water was heating, it reached about lukewarm temperature before the Jetboil stove fizzled out. We tried relighting it, but it wouldn’t start. Finally, as we sat there eating cold, chewy, half rehydrated stroganoff, we concluded that we underestimated how much fuel we would need, and that we were out. It was slightly stressful given that melting snow would be the easiest way to replenish water supply, but it wasn’t the worst thing to happen because snow can be melted other ways, the just take a while longer.
After watching a spectacular sunset, we got into our sleeping bags to get some sleep before a 2:30 a.m. start the next day. This also happened to be my first time camping in the snow, and man was it cold. I had a zero degree rated sleeping bag, but I still had to wear my down jacket and wrap Ted’s down jacket around my feet. I shivered for a few hours before dozing into a light sleep, only to be awoken for the climb.
The first thing Ted said to me that morning was: “Hey…do you know that song Move Bitch by Ludacris?” I have no idea why Ted had that song on his mind, given that it is a pretty vicious song for a gentle guy. When I told him I had it on my iPod he insisted that I play it. So there we were, under the stars in a quiet, snowy dreamland packing our backpacks and singing “…move bitch, get out the way, get out the way bitch get out the way…” along with Ludacris.
I felt like I was on another planet. This was not like climbing Mt. Hood, where I was very familiar with the route. We skinned along rolling hills covered in Styrofoam-like snow under the brightest stars I’ve ever seen. It was quiet, and for a while we were the only ones on the whole mountain except for a tiny mouse that somehow followed us up half the climb hoping to get on some of our snacks.
We wandered up the slope until the sun started to peek over the horizon. By this time we had made it to Lunch Counter, so we decided to take a small break before the long climb to the false summit. It was 1,000 feet vertical gain in a relatively short distance. It looked fairly easy to us, so once we got started we figured it would take about an hour or two. We were so wrong.
It took us over three hours to get up that hill, zig-zagging up the steep slope, feeling like we were getting nowhere. As we turned around to check our gain, we noticed numerous climbers catching up with us. It may have been me, but it looked like they were suffering a hell of a lot less than Ted and I.
When I say suffering, I really mean it. That whole hike to the false summit altitude sickness was creeping up on me. My throat burned like I was stuck in a state of acid reflux, my stomach threatening vomit. I honestly wish I could have thrown up; at least the nausea would have stopped. Not only that, but my head was foggy and I couldn’t think straight. When we sat down to take a break, I put my head between my knees. When Ted asked if I was okay, I tried to tell him I wasn’t feeling well. But all that came out was garbled words that sounded nothing like English. He took that as “I’m fine Ted, let’s go!!” So up the hill we went.
Check back next time to find out how Katie and Ted finish their trip. If this mountain trip has gotten you stoked on outdoor adventure come on over to the Milky Way and pay us a visit!